A year’s learning in review …

I’m only reasonably new at Blogging, and for that matter, trying to integrate technology into my teaching, and I’ve learned a lot, and still have a lot to learn. I’m thankful that my Boss thought it important enough to give one of our staff a generous allocation to support staff integrate technology. Without it I would have floundered and probably dropped the ball a few times – and maybe not even picked it up again. I have had some great people who have been at it for a while already though like MrRobbo, Jonesytheteacher and plenty more have inspired with their ideas and enthusiasm.

I’ve tried plenty of things, some which may not be called back into the game for a while, but many things that we’ve tried have shown enough promise to persit with them. My favourite ‘web2.0’ tools so far have been xtranormal, glogster and student podcasting. Apart from those, I’ve used Skype, Flip cameras to film instructions and to give feedback to students, used a metronome dowloaded to my Iphone to control exercise intensity when working with HR monitors, experimented with classtools.net to create some revision games, created a school PE blog and twitter account, created online embeddable magazines using Scribd and Calameo, screen captured presentations and instructional videos using Jing and have grown more aware of the uses of Moodle for my classes.

Some of the things that I’ve learned so far are:

I’ve learned that the 21C tools that we have access to shouldn’t be treated any differently to other classroom tools that we’ve used for however long, but need to be used carefully and planned well.

I’ve learned that it’s ok to let the student play with the technology rather than being shown exactly what to do. Most of the time, it didn’t take much longer than it would have for me to have explained to them anyway, and once they’d worked it out, their friends were asking them how they did it and they were able to show them what they did. The learning isn’t just about the information, but also the process.

I’ve learned that no matter how cool something is, if you overuse it, the novely will wear off and the students’ engagement will be affected.

I’ve learned that it takes some time to experiment and plan, but the payoff is having your students engaged in ways that ‘chalk and talk’ will struggle to do.

Finally, I’ve learned that these tools aren’t added extras, but necessary tools for engaging students in a meaningful way that allows their work to be shared with the real world rather than staying between the two cardboard covers of an exercise book. How good is it to think that our students can create things that people anywhere in the world could benefit from?!

The year ahead promises a lot, but I’ll talk about that in a different blog post. I will actually need to spend more time sitting down and reflecting on what worked, what didn’t and what could have been done to make it work next time, and how to make things work better.

Renewed Excitement

When you first get into the classroom fresh out of University, there is a sense of excitement about what lies ahead and the impact you can make. Somewhere along the way in the last 10 years the flame has died down. It might be that the busyness of work has meant little time to explore all the things I started out doing, or it may be just a normal process that happens.

However, recently, something’s got me excited again. And it’s not a sporting event, or a trip away with the students or anything like that, it’s the thought of what can be done using technology in the classroom. What can be used to engage the students in learning. It started last holidays, reading some ‘tweets’ from a friend at an IT conference. Being on holidays, I had more time than usual to check out one of the presentations that was being broadcast on the net. Before I knew it I was reading article after article on random blogs and a new world had opened up.

Many things struck me as I went from blog page to blog page, but none stood out as much as the concept that the use of PowerPoint should be avoided because teachers ‘often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather than using it as a creative tool (http://chronicle.com/article/Teach-Naked-Effort-Strips/47398/). So, if I am to stop using PowerPoint in my teaching, how do students get the information they need?

Well, when you consider that almost any information the students need can be found using Google or any other search engine, or we could email or print out for them any other information they need then surely we need to consider how we teach and the types of ‘work’ we get them to do.

What’s excited me about these thoughts, is that all of a sudden I’ve started thinking of ways to get my students engaged using higher order thinking, reading information and starting to analyse it, working out what the main points are, challenging them to ask questions of the information they are reading, debating what it means. Not spending so much time copying out notes that already in books they can read, or search for on the internet is opening up time to spend doing other things.

There are so many ways that technology can help. So far I’ve only tried a few things and a steady as she goes approach is probably not a bad idea as I’m still only a ‘noob’ with most types of technology but a few things are better than nothing. Here’s what the last 5 weeks has introduced:

1) I’ve started a faculty blog site to ‘publish’ students work and present it to a worldwide audience. Hopefully, knowing their work will be visible, will mean they will put more effort into raising the standard of what they are writing but will also give a purpose to what they do. Rather than having their work sitting in their exercise book, now it’s out there for everyone to make use of!

2) Flip Cameras – we’ve used these little beauties in PE lessons as a means of providing almost instantaneous feedback to students on their performance technique. They are more effective than a normal video camera as they don’t require rewinding to preview the action you just required. I’ve also used them in theory lessons to video students explaining diagrams/models and then put them on our school Moodle so that students can put them on their MP3 players. (The use of MP3’s and podcasting is, I think, an area of much potential in our teaching.

3) Last week we had a guest speaker in my Year 8PDH class to talk about Depression. The great thing about this was that our guest speaker came to us via Skype from his office almost 7 hours drive away. I’d never used skype before but it took literally 2-3 minutes to download the free program, another 1-2 minutes to set up an account. Using my connections, we lined up our speaker, tested the connection before the lesson began. After an introductory activity with the class, our guest speaker ‘called’ in to tell us about his experiences with depression. It didn’t all go smoothly, but after 1-2 initial dropouts we were able to establish a connection for another 25 minute discussion. Imagine the possibilities for getting ‘experts’ into our classrooms from all over the world! And, the call won’t cost a thing.

There are so many other ideas running through my head – some significant but some only small, but I’ll leave them for another time.

The term is almost over and another holiday period will hopefully give me time to consider how I can use technology to engage the students and help them teach themselves!